The ACT Planning Authority has been accused of being cavalier about objections to development proposals, giving a community group no choice but to appeal the approval of a multi-unit development in Griffith.
On Monday (9 January), the Kingston and Barton Residents Group lodged an application with the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal challenging ACTPLA’s decision before Christmas to conditionally approve Morris Property Group’s four-storey unit complex across three blocks on Leichhardt Street.
Since the 8 December decision, Morris has reduced the number of apartments from 76 to 67 and increased the setback on level 3, but the resident group’s main objections about the building height and south-facing balconies have been dismissed.
After a frustrating email exchange with ACTPLA in which most of his questions were ignored, president and retired planner Richard Johnston fired back that it left him no choice but to take the matter to ACAT.
“It gives me no pleasure to involve us all in this time and cost-consuming process, which I believe could have been avoided,” he wrote.
“I would also add that this sort of repeated and cavalier treatment of significant and contentious redevelopment proposals is hardly likely to improve the current low level of trust in the authority within the broader community.”
His comments come as the ACT Government planning reform program risks losing the confidence of the community with an Assembly committee report on the draft planning bill recommending almost 50 changes.
Mr Johnston also took issue with ACTPLA’s position on the Living Infrastructure changes to the Territory Plan in DV369, which took force last September and provides for adequate greenspace, including for trees.
ACTPLA argued that because the original DA was lodged well before September, the new rules did not apply, but Mr Johnston warned that two recent victories in ACAT may put that view in doubt.
Those cases involved Griffith Narrabundah Community Association’s objections to government supportive housing proposals seeking to put three units on one block.
In all three situations, substantial amendments were lodged after September, which Mr Johnston asserts exposes them to DV369.
“Frankly, I am sick of seeing the same platitudinous and totally inadequate ‘Reasons for the Decision’ from the Authority – ‘it was considered to meet the relevant rules and criteria of the Territory Plan’ – when it takes little study to demonstrate that this is far from the case,” Mr Johnston wrote.
Mr Johnston told Region that his group and others support development that complied with the Territory Plan, but developers were routinely putting in ambit claims to get more than what was permitted and the planning authority was routinely rolling over.
“They’re just not administering their own plan, and [Chief Planner] Ben Ponton has the hide to get up and say we’re getting poor outcomes because we’re bound by the rules, and the rules generate poorer quality outcomes than we can achieve if we’re left unfettered to look at it on the merits, but exactly the opposite is happening.”
The group had not intended to appeal, but it kept hitting a brick wall.
“It’s the only way to get a very transparent process,” he said.
Mr Johnston said he would be happy to go to mediation to resolve the issues.
He said the building height was contrary to the Territory Plan and what had been earlier approved in that area and should come back to three storeys.
“It is in an area where there is a mixture of development but generally two to three storeys and a bit of four but not much,” he said.
“It’s also opposite one of the heritage housing precincts – one-storey cottages – and so out of context it’s ridiculous.”
Mr Johnston was also concerned about the amenity for future residents because of the large number of south-facing apartments and balconies.
“That’s a recipe for a very poor outcome for future residents,” he said.
The amount of green space and tree coverage in line with DV 369 would also be raised.
The Morris case will also run alongside a new appeal against the second approval of the Geocon proposal in Giles Street, which started as an eight-storey mixed-use development but was scaled back to a four-storey commercial project after a community outcry.
But that was still knocked back in ACAT. Mr Johnston said the only difference in the new version was a lease change leaving the issues raised by the community still unresolved.
These included the building height, streetscape, heritage aspects, and the impact on neighbours’ amenity.
The all-new appeal will kick off with a hearing in early February.